Mike Williams Could Explode in Chargers' New Offense

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 1, 2021

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) sprints with the ball during an NFL football practice Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Costa Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

Can Mike Williams be considered a sleeper? It's up for debate, considering that the Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver went over 1,000 yards and averaged an NFL-high 20.4 yards per reception in 2019. The 2017 first-round pick also caught 17 touchdowns the last three years, but he's yet to earn an All-Pro or Pro Bowl nod and is entering the option year at the conclusion of his rookie contract. 

Regardless, look for Williams to explode during his age-27 campaign in 2021. 

We knew the 6'4", 218-pound Clemson product had it in him. Size, strength, tremendous college production. But it didn't quite come together consistently in those first four seasons, likely for two main reasons: 

  1. Injuries at various points to his knee, back, shoulder and hamstring
  2. The presence of Keenan Allen as a clear-cut No. 1 receiver

Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

But that could all change this season as Williams, Allen and reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year quarterback Justin Herbert settle into the new offensive system that Joe Lombardi is bringing to town. 

Per The Athletic's Daniel Popper, Williams will serve as the X receiver in Lombardi's offense. And that's a big deal because that's the role Michael Thomas played in the same offense with the New Orleans Saints over the last five years, when Lombardi served as the team's quarterbacks coach.  

During that time, Thomas led the league with 510 catches, earned three Pro Bowl honors, was a first-team All-Pro twice and won the Offensive Player of the Year award after a record-breaking 2019 season in which he posted 149 catches.

"As much as this offense will resemble New Orleans, he plays the X, and the ball has always kind of found the X receiver in this offense," Lombardi said of Williams last month, according to Popper. "I think that there will be some natural production that comes his way because of the nature of the offense."

Williams entered the league with a bigger reputation than Thomas, a 2016 second-rounder, and has the skill set to be just as productive while Allen continues to take up attention elsewhere. Herbert and Drew Brees are very different quarterbacks, but the former couldn't have asked for a better start to his career via a rookie record 31 TD passes and can turn Williams into a superstar with his remarkable arm. 

"I see a big role for him," Lombardi added, per Popper. "If I were a betting man, I'd bet on nice numbers coming from him on the stat sheet, that's for sure."

What exactly might that look like? Well, Williams' average draft position at FantasyPros is 136th, which ranks below 51 receivers, including guys with seemingly obvious ceilings such as Antonio Brown and Cole Beasley. That's ridiculous and should be expected to change this summer, but it still might mean there's plenty of fantasy and futures value in a player who could easily outproduce Allen (whose ADP is 34th) in 2021. 

Moody @EricNMoody

I’d LOVE to see Mike Williams set a career high in targets in Joe Lombardi's offense this season. He will play the X receiver position which was held by Michael Thomas in New Orleans. #Chargers #FantasyFootball https://t.co/6EznBOE8Xe

For what it's worth, Williams averaged 8.9 yards per target in Herbert's rookie season, while Allen averaged just 6.7. He's gotten the better of his teammate in that category since 2018 but has never been targeted as frequently. With that expected to change to an extent in 2021, Williams might simply have to remain healthy to become the top option in that offense and gain significant value for fantasy players and bettors. 

Thomas averaged just north of 150 targets per season during his first four healthy campaigns, and Allen has averaged 148 targets per season since 2017. If Williams can just jump from the 90 range to 130, he could easily catch 75 passes for 1,300 yards and score 8-10 touchdowns in a full 2021 season. 

Of course, that's if all goes right, which isn't certain because he's had some trouble with durability and consistency. Still, Williams remains shockingly far under the radar considering his talent, measurables and circumstances. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.